Theater Camp: Jimmy Tatro’s Troy is the successor to a treasured Summer Theater Camp owner, played by Amy Sedaris, who has been left unexpectedly in a coma. Theater Camp feels similar to a Christopher Guest comedy shot by Barry Ackroyd, albeit more exhausting, less cleverly funny, far thinner on plot, and characteristically scattered so thin it’s barely able to be held together. The performances of the many great actors of the cast, like Ben Platt, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri, and director Molly Gordon, are the best part of Theater Camp as it allows them to improvise in intentionally animated roles. Still, the film tries hard to give everyone their big on-screen spotlight, which feels in the vain of theater arts but also highly unearned and sometimes entirely unneeded. In particular, Noah Galvin is given a showstopping finale to showcase the immense talents he hasn’t been able to showcase on the big screen before. Yet, the character is so poorly drawn out I did not feel too invested in his eventual success. The film’s most significant offense is losing sight of the documentary element and ending up feeling like a pure gimmick. Picked up during the festival by Searchlight Pictures, I’ll be surprised if they commit to the movie theater plans because this movie is only for the most diehard of theater geeks, offering a very niche audience its many in-jokes that will likely go over many heads. [C]

Shortcomings: The movie, based on a popular graphic novel, follows Ben Takanaka, an Asian movie theater manager in San Francisco who has an affinity for a typical blonde Caucasian woman due to his racial insecurities but is also in a fraught long-term relationship with an Asian woman that is about to completely falling apart. He’s also an incredibly ignorant jerk with hypocritical tendencies for someone with such a big and critical mouth. Still, he also has an extremely likable side, making sharply observed and shrewd points like the hypocrisies of Asian representation in media, and is wonderfully played by Justin H. Min (showing a whole other range after 2022’s After Yang). The film also delves deep into interracial and queer relationships in our society. A movie like this works because the characters and commentary on the dating world feel painfully real and relevant. Actor-turned-director Randall Park strongly directs a very quick-witted script that resonates with him and shares his voice on Asian representation in media, especially repeatedly narrowing in on the win-lose benefits of the success of the genuine Crazy Rich Asians phenomenon. The only nitpick I wish it drew in more on its graphic novel origins as the film takes a more subtle approach stylistically that a common viewer will likely not pick up on. [B+]

Flora and the Son: John Carney’s latest film centers around the title former character, Flora, played with the star-is-born potential, Eve Hewson, who is also Bono’s daughter proving talent is sometimes genetic. She is a single mother living in Director John Carney’s Dublin homeland, raising a son who cannot escape rounds of trouble without juvenile school or police intervention. She has a deadbeat musician father, played by Carney regular Jack Reynor. After using a guitar to motivate her son to evolve from his troubled ways fail; she takes up the instrument to refocus on herself after putting much of her own life on pause after getting pregnant at a very early age, and is seeing the world a lot clearer now once she left her toxic marriage. She finds an American musician living in Los Angeles, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, on Youtube, willing to give her affordable guitar lessons, and a musical partnership is born. Through the power of musical connection, she can better herself and her son. Surprisingly her son shares this same passion, but with rap and musical production, pushing him to explore his creative side in other refreshing ways. John Carney is a wizard of coming to a meaningful redemption full of grace, irresistible charm, and musical sequences into something incredibly intoxicating to watch. For instance, without a cue, my audience was in unison, clapping to its finale song as the title card dropped. The film is not without its faults, though. While it plays wonderfully with a crowd, the storytelling could be more robust. The characters are built up wonderfully, but it leaves a slight narrative impact, and the Levitt/Flora relationship, while strong, felt rushed and like it was missing a third arc. It’s a wonderfully enjoyable film, but these faults will keep it from being as beloved as Carney’s past efforts. [B]

The Deepest Breath: This documentary is an almost reverse concept of the Academy Award Winning Documentary film Free Solo, which tells about one of the riskiest adventure sports out there, free diving, which is underwater diving that relies on breath-holding until resurfacing, accompanied by just one holding your breath and no emergency air tanks by your side. Instead, you have a team of trained helpers as you’re swimming against water pressure with only 10 meters to go, where you’ll likely enter a complete brain-body shutdown, passing out and needing to be immediately revived, or you’ll very probably die. Sounds terrifying? Well, a bunch of people explored in this documentary are adventure seekers addicted to the rush of this life-threatening activity. The concept here can be extremely bold and exciting to unravel. Still, structurally the film is a bit of a mess that can’t find a good pace or point-of-view until the last third when we’re introduced to the character Alessia who defies all risk and dangers her way to set the next world record no matter what safety medics on staff tell her. A safety diver Steven, falls in love with her and instantly becomes an arc you’re invested in that could’ve been more powerful in better-edited hands. Another area for improvement with the structure is that you can already see where the documentary hints at who lives and dies, which can remove a lot of suspense when you already have it nearly narrowed down. Despite this, watching people willingly plunge into the most profound depths of the ocean without breathing equipment, repeatedly have their brains shut down, and often dive time and time again can be a cathartic watch as these people are at odds with the sport they love, the risk to themselves and those that surround them, which makes this regardless a must-see watch when comes to Netflix later this year. [B-]

Landscape With Invisible Hand: Cory Finley’s third film delves into many themes, such as capitalism, technology, art, and romance, as hyper-advanced aliens have taken over Earth, taking over much of human life and the natural economy, leaving the population feel like nothing more than a commodity. Sadly the film is miscalculated bust, yet an ambitious one. When lead high school characters Adam and Chloe start dating, they think they can monetize their love by broadcasting their dates to alien subscribers. Quickly proven love can fizzle out when they’re forced to overcompensate for a targeted audience, leading an initially authentic romance to an artificial one that the aliens rapidly see through and leads to tragic results for the lovebirds, but is also a sharp commentary on the enjoyment we see through vlogging and following social media posts ourselves. It’s a strange and sparsely written movie that can’t distinguish ample humor or tone. The aliens look like miniature lobsters with an inexplicable language that somehow humans can learn. Sadly, there’s a lot of fun material in here that needed a more bizarre, comical, and stylized approach to work that Finley sadly seemed out of range for. The performances are uniformly decent, but strangely almost every actor feels miscast beside Chloe and Haddish’s character. Lead character Chloe felt initially vital to the narrative, but the film takes a miscalculation and shifts entirely to Adam, who feels like the weaker written character. This likely was a choice faithful to the novel due to the character’s artistic talents that later play into the plot, but the film loses a lot of energy because of it. Tiffany Haddish is also the overall standout of the cast as Adam’s sole-provider mother after their alien-hating father ran out on them before the film’s events. They eventually take in Chloe’s family as they struggle against the aliens overrunning their economy. Things turn for the worst when their gratitude is not shared out of sheer contempt and embarrassment for her family’s financial situation leading to a greed-stricken tug-of-war. A scant concept like this should’ve been left as a typical Black Mirror episode than feature-length entertainment. [C]


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